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The Two-Minute Guide to Chiditarod

Whether you’re competing, spectating, or barricading your doors, here’s what to know about the chaotic grocery cart race that invades West Town this month.

Illustration by Hawk Krall
Illustration: Hawk Krall

What it is

The Chiditarod wears many hats: It’s a parade. It’s a fundraiser. It’s a bar crawl. It’s a mobile art project. It’s an aggressive cardio workout. But at its immutable core, it is a five-mile grocery cart race through West Town and surrounding neighborhoods with some 800-plus participants.

Chiditarod participants playing brass instruments
Photos: (Back to the Future) Ryan Brandoff Photography; (others) Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune

Where the name comes from

It’s a play on the Iditarod, obviously. Now in its 15th year, the Chiditarod takes place on the same March weekend as Alaska’s annual 975-mile dogsled race. But instead of huskies and a sled, four humans pull a grocery cart with one (also human) musher steering it. To complete the race, each team has to pass through five checkpoints, where they’re required to stop for 25 minutes and play games.

Why it persists

The Chiditarod is actually a giant food drive. Each team must haul at least 69 pounds of nonperishables to the starting line (but they’ll offload the goods before go time). They’re also encouraged to fundraise like crazy for the Chiditarod Foundation, which gives grants to organizations fighting hunger in Chicago.

Chiditarod participants' carts

What to expect this year

Themed costumes and elaborately decorated carts. Imagine if Mad Max: Fury Road had a baby with Saturday afternoon at Costco — that is, anarchy, costumes, more anarchy, and grocery carts. Showing off creativity (racers pick their own themes) is just as imperative as the race itself. Past getups: the DeLorean from Back to the Future, with entrants dressed as Doc and Marty McFly; the airport stair car from Arrested Development surrounded by the Bluths; and a giant boulder chasing a participant dressed as Indiana Jones through the streets.

Multicart mayhem. This new category allows a single team to register multiple carts to tell a bigger, more theatrical story and create even more chaos. Think three carts strapped together to re-create the Titanic (a past multicart entry before this was an official category).

Sabotage. It may be a warm, fuzzy food drive, but there’s still plenty of room for your cold, dead heart: Organizers urge — nay, expect — racers to thwart the competition. In previous years, teams screwed homemade traffic boots to other carts, handed out fraudulent skip-this-checkpoint coupons, and zip-tied carts together. This is different from cheating — the Chiditarod has strict guidelines to distinguish between the two (go wild handing out fake maps; don’t damage carts).

The details

When:March 7. The race starts at 12:30 p.m. at Cobra Lounge.

How to participate:Register by February 21 at chiditarod.org. It’s $95 a team, plus an $88 refundable cart deposit.

How to watch:Observe at the checkpoints (see map; one was undecided at press time). While not required, it’s good etiquette to bring food to donate at each one. Don’t be a jerk, OK?

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